Betsy Pandora is a woman on a mission.
As the newly appointed Executive Director of the Short North Alliance, she has ambitious plans to enhance the culture of Columbus’ most vibrant arts and entertainment district and make it more effortless than ever for locals and visitors alike to enjoy all that it has to offer.
Columbus-born Pandora, 29, has lived in the Short North for 10 years. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and a master’s degree in city and regional planning.
I interviewed her at the Short North Alliance’s three-month-old offices at the SNA Meeting and Exhibition Space, nestled between Brothers’ Drake Meadery and the Hookah Bar at High Street and East Fifth. The industrial-chic interior doubles as a community meeting space and a gallery featuring the work of local emerging artists.
Comfortably dressed in a vivid fuchsia sweater, she gazes at the framed photographs hanging on the wall behind me while I set up my recorder and look over my notes. The collection, entitled Near and Far, Big and Small, is the work of Jon Cowley. It is the gallery’s inaugural exhibit.
“I’ve always been interested in the arts,” says Pandora, whose resume includes the stints with Wexner Center for the Arts, CAPA, COSI, and MadLab Theatre. Prior to accepting her position with the Short North Alliance, she worked at Columbus Public Health, where she created projects designed to make the city more accessible to walkers and bikers, including the Columbus Art Walks initiative.
How does your unique background in art and city planning impact your new position?
My arts background is important in the vision that we are creating for the Short North District. There is a strong component with the Short North Alliance that is focusing on public art in particular. The city as a whole has taken more interest in public art, and we want to continue to take a leadership role in that area.
Tell me about some of those concepts.
There was a series of pop-up art that was done in 2012 that was called the 10x10x10 Mini-Murals Project…10 murals by 10 galleries at 10 locations in the District. It was such a popular project we are currently revising it to begin again in the first quarter of 2014. The new title will be Viewpoints – Murals by artists under Forty. We will really be focusing on young, professional artists who are working here in Columbus. We expect it to be up and running in time for the March 2014 Gallery Hop. We are also exploring how we can get more permanent public art installed in and around the outside spaces as well. We have such great alleys, small spaces, and parks. We are really looking at and exploring ways that we can alter different spaces to create exciting and engaging experiences. Everything is on the table at this point.
What are some of the key projects you have in mind for the region, on the city planning side of the house?
There’s a little thing called parking (laughs). When you become such a popular place like the Short North, and you become that way quickly, sometimes parking can’t catch up to demand. More and more, we are seeing new residential development come online, adjacent to the High Street corridor. We are seeing new businesses come to the District that generate greater demand. So, we have spent a lot of time working with the City of Columbus, and working with resident and business groups to figure out the best solutions for giving people easy access to the area.
As you go to work, thinking about the day ahead, what gives you your sense of purpose?
What I get the most purpose and fulfillment out of is problem-solving. I like to help people figure out what our problems are and how can we accomplish solutions. Whether it’s playing mediator between the city and some businesses to resolve an issue, or looking for funds for marketing or other initiatives, or helping business leaders create a vision, all of that is thinking through strategies and finding solutions.
Give me the Betsy Pandora vision for the Short North going forward.
The Short North is such an exciting and vibrant place. The thing we really strive for here at the alliance – our mission – is to promote a balanced neighborhood. As we continue to evolve, my personal mission is to ensure that change happens in a way that is balanced and meaningful. Having a dense concentration of places for people to eat and wonderful places to shop or appreciate art is what is really important to me, because it keeps the area vibrant and diverse and keeps people interested.
The development fairy grants you three wishes. Make your list.
My first one would re-do our sidewalks and make it cleaner and easier to move through the neighborhood. We have such a great presence on the street, we could really use some fabulous public space right along High Street for people to dine and gather.
For my second wish I would create more convenient public transit options. I would make people realize how much fun it is to ride a bike to the Short North. If I could wave my magic wand, it would be about changing our culture and our value system toward not always depending on a car.
I get a third one, right?
My third wish is that we continue to have a thriving creative community here in the district. When I say that, I mean that we have creative businesses that infuse an artistic sensibility into the way that they do business. That we have galleries that thrive, that we have a community that supports and fosters the arts in this neighborhood. Continuing to make that a value going forward is important to me.
Building on (predecessor) John Angelo’s legacy…
John was amazing. I got to have a little bit of time to overlap with him and I am thankful for that time. Columbus and the district owe a great deal of thanks to John and his vision. Going forward, some of the things I would like to build upon would be his focus on public art and some of the great events that we initiated during John’s tenure and, in the case of Highball Halloween, took to a national level.
Any events you would like to add or enhance?
We would love to see more public art-based events. This year’s Highball Halloween, our sixth one, was, by leaps and bounds, the most successful Highball we have ever done. It is a destination driver in and of itself. Fox News called it the nation’s most elaborate Halloween party this year. We want to continue to showcase the talents of Columbus’ fashion designers and continue to bring national attention to the event and the neighborhood. Gallery Hop also continues to be a staple. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to support the arts community here. At this point, in terms of events, we have some pretty solid ones that we will grow and enhance. Time will tell if we want to add new ones.
Your personal Short North faves when you are off the clock?
For dinner out – Haiku. For a good time – Surly Girl Saloon.
I can’t answer that one. It’s like choosing a favorite among your children.
The best things about your job?
It brings together for me, all of my past experiences. What is so awesome about this position is that it really blends artistic programming and bringing people together in a creative way with civic and development issues. It’s a perfect marriage of the two skill sets that I have. And it’s the Short North, you know? There is always something exciting going on here. I truly value being able to come to work and play a very small role in enhancing what these passionate, talented and entrepreneurial small business owners do for our city and our neighborhood everyday.
In addition to the ubiquitous Gallery Hop (first Saturday of every month), the Short North will hold its annual Winter Sale January 17-19. For more, visit www.shortnorth.org.